1. Drone wars: Israel carried out airstrikes on Iranian forces in Syria late Saturday night, but unlike the case with other such strikes, it quickly owned up to them, with the IDF alleging a massive plot by Iran to fly explosives-laden drones into the country and carry out attacks.
- Army spokesman Jonathan Cornicus is quoted telling AFP that while Iranian forces had launched rockets and missiles at Israel from Syria three times during 2018, the use of “kamikaze” drones set to explode on their targets was a new and “different tactic.”
- He is quoted in AP saying that the army believed the attack was “imminent,” and that the army had seen Iran try to execute it on Thursday and again Saturday night.
- The news agency says the attack “appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces in several years of hits on Iranian targets in Syria,” though there is not much indication as to how many sites were struck, or casualties.
- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it knows of one civilian killed during the strikes, though it’s unclear if they were killed by the Israeli strike or Syrian anti-aircraft fire, which is famous for not always hitting its target.
- Reuters, quoting the ILNA semi-official Iranian state media site, cites someone it calls call a senior IRGC official denying that Israel hit any of its forces in Syria. However Israeli researcher Raz Zimmt notes on Twitter that the person quoted, Mohsen Rezaei, is no such thing.
- “He left the IRGC in 1997. Today he is the head of a body that sets the regime’s agenda, a body that has almost no intervention in security matters, and he is not seen as having weight on any level regarding security and is not an official Iranian spokesperson,” he writes.
2. An enigma wrapped in a stronghold: While Israel was open about striking inside Syria — a rarity — reports of drones falling and exploding in Beirut hours later are shrouded in an equal amount of mystery.
- While most Western outlets report Hezbollah saying one drone “fell” while another “exploded in the air” above the group’s stronghold in southern Beirut, Iran’s Press TV reports that Hezbollah claimed to have brought the two down.
- However, Hezbollah spokesman Muhammad Afif later says one drone crashed into the group’s media center, causing damage, while another fell harmlessly.
- According to AP, after the incident, Hezbollah put the area of the explosion on lockdown and did not let journalists take pictures or video.
- Some reports on social media indicate the exploding drone had been targeting a car, with some assuming that it had been an assassination attempt somehow tied to the Iran drone plot in Syria.
- BBC producer Riam Dalati tweets that an eyewitness told him, “We saw it drop something, a grenade or an IED. We started pelting it with rocks, it ran away then crashed. But the IED it had previously dropped detonated.”
- Former military official Amos Yadlin tells Army Radio that he does not think the drones were actually Israeli. “Maybe they were trying to take off from there,” he theorizes.
3. IRGsee you: What Israelis are really interested in, though, is trying to figure out how this figures into the larger Iran-Israel conflict.
- Writing for ToI, Avi Issacharoff says that Israel has taken a leading role in a wider Sunni effort against Iranian plans for hegemony across the region: “Israel is not going to just allow them to put a foothold where they want. And this means that the level of fighting between Iran and Israel will only ratchet higher and higher. Along the way, it may change shape in some ways, and it’s possible instead of drones we’ll see an Iranian attempt to take revenge through some other sort of attack.”
- In Haaretz, Amos Harel describes the drone plot as designed to avenge reported Israeli attacks on Iranian sites in Iraq, and says the question now is whether and how Iran will try again.
- “If it turns out that Iranians were killed in the Israeli strike, including senior officials, the chances of revenge will grow,” he writes.
- In Ynet, Ron Ben Yishai describes Iran’s plot in almost comical terms, noting that an Iranian publication on Thursday claimed Israel was in for a drone attack, though that attempt had already failed: “It seems someone didn’t update the Iranian analyst.”
- “I wouldn’t want to be [IRGC Quds Force head Qassem] Soleimani now,” Yadlin quips to Army Radio. “The whole world knows he failed again.”
4. Blabberbomber: Part of the reason the whole world knows is because Israel was not shy about the strikes it had carried out. That includes a tweet sent out by the government in Persian with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threatening words against Iran accompanied by a video purporting to show a building in flames after the attack.
- But not everybody thinks Israel should be talking so loudly. Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon tells Kan radio that he thinks Netanyahu is trying to use the attack for political purposes: We had a lot of attacks like these and we didn’t run to tell everyone about it.”
- Avigdor Liberman, another former defense minister and political rival, also thinks Netanyahu should have shut his yapper: “The bragging is unnecessary, we need to maintain ambiguity.”
- Ynet’s Ben Yishai surmises that the public declaration was aimed more at Iran than at Israeli voters. “Israel chose to expose its operations to warn the Iranians from trying something like it in the future, and to show them how much [Israeli] intelligence has penetrated their operation.”
- Alon Ben David writes for Channel 13 news that Israel seems to have returned to its policy of ambiguity, pointing to the fog surrounding the Beirut drones.
5. Without Rina: The Syrian sorties came after a weekend that saw a deadly attack on a family at a spring outside the West Bank settlement of Dolev.
- Rina Shnerb, 17, was killed in the bomb attack and her father and brother injured. A picture of Rina takes up almost the whole front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, which also runs a headline mourning “A hole left in the heart of the nation” by her death.
- Many of the stories on the family surround an emotional hospital reunion Saturday night between father Eitan Shnerb and his son Dvir after spending Shabbat being treated for wounds they sustained in the blast.
- “We cried after hours in which I didn’t know how he was and was really scared,” Israel Hayom quotes the father saying. “He told me he can’t imagine the world without Rina and I told him we need to stay strong.”
- Speaking to Radio 103 Shnerb recalls that after the blast he started to panic but his son told him to call for help. Instead of calling emergency services, though, he accidentally dialed his wife and blurted to her that there was an attack and they were hurt.
- “I didn’t want to tell her Rina was dead, even though we knew it then already, and Dvir told me, Dad, don’t tell mom, she needs someone else to tell her so she doesn’t find out like this on the phone.’ so I just said, call them to come quick, there are injuries here, Rina’s in a bad situation and me and Dvir are also hurt.”
6. West Bank dangers: Israeli forces spent the weekend searching for the perpetrators, and made some arrests, but have not announced that they found the main suspects.
- Channel 12 news quotes Palestinian security officials saying they believe that given the sophistication of the attack, it was likely the work of an organized cell and not a lone wolf, which they call a “dangerous” development.
- In Haaretz, Harel notes that taken together with other attacks in the West Bank recently, including a foiled Hamas bomb plot, “It seems this isn’t just a spontaneous wave of individual terrorists, but a sign of local cells getting together, some of them associated with terror groups and operating with the avid encouragement of the West Bank division of Hamas headquarters in Gaza.”
- In Israel Hayom, Nadav Shragai claims that just as important a common denominator is the fact that “all the recent attackers … are suckling from the same religious source, the same modern blood libel that ‘Al-Aqsa is in danger,” accusing both the PA and Hamas of spreading inciting lies.
- In Yedioth, Shimrit Meir writes that if Israeli authorities don’t get a handle on the uptick in violence, they will have a dangerous development to contend with: “The Gazaization of Judea and Samaria.”
7. Second vote, just like the first: While Israel Hayom does fill most of its front page with the Dolev attack, it saves some room on the bottom for an op-ed taking aim at Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for “intervening” in the electoral process by releasing the draft charge sheet against Netanyahu.
- The placement of the story on the front page of a newspaper seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu may herald a return by his Likud party to attacking Mandelblit, after mostly laying off of him over the past few months as the election rerun has gotten underway.
- While it’s little surprise that season 2 will continue the themes of season 1, the writers of Israeli Election decided to spice things up recently by having Joint List leader Ayman Odeh says he would be willing to join a coalition with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White.
- But Gantz is apparently a big fan of season 1 and prefers to keep things how they are.
- Given the cold shoulder, Odeh took to Channel 12 to accuse Gantz of racism and a lack of courage: “If he is really for peace, equality, democracy, social justice – he should accept it. But apparently he is against [those].”
- In Yedioth, Ben-Dror Yemini also urges Gantz to be open to breaking bread with Odeh, even if the chances of actually forming a coalition with him “are close to zero.”
- “Politics isn’t the only important thing. Good will is as well, and when an Arab offers you his hand … you should offer yours back. It’s not too late.”
8. Burning bromance: A few weeks late, but along with the rest of the world, the Israeli media has caught on to the massive wildfires raging in the Amazon, covering them as a major news story.
- Googling “Amazon” in Hebrew, though, one still finds more stories about the e-tailer’s coming entrance to the Israeli market, and an anti-Semitic shirt it had on offer recently, than about the fire.
- ToI’s Sue Surkes writes that Netanyahu, who has cherished his ties with Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro as a tropical Donald Trump, should have spoken up for Planet Earth instead of sticking to his right-wing posse of climate change deniers.
- “Brazil is a long way both from Europe and Israel — it is closer to the US — but there’s no chance of intervention from Trump, himself a climate change denier. Nevertheless, the fires are very much the business of us all,” she writes. “The issue simply transcends sovereign boundaries as well as the traditional politics of right and left.”